Book Talk Tuesday: Kiss Me by Susan Mallery

KISS ME is the best Fool’s Gold book yet, in my opinion. And it’s definitely an atypical Fool’s Gold book.

Kiss Me by Susan Mallery
Kiss Me by Susan Mallery

Phoebe has been suspended from her Los Angeles job because she took the fall for her boss. Her tender heart is always getting her into trouble. Her friend Maya urges Phoebe to go back to Maya’s home town and accompany her on a cattle drive her step-brother is organizing. Phoebe is unprepared for how much she loves the country and, unexpectedly, how much she’s attracted to the rugged cowboy leading the group across the Fool’s Gold hills with a bunch of cattle.

Zane Nicholson is conducting a cattle drive for greenhorns against his better judgement, but he needs to teach his kid brother a lesson. So here he is, keeping track of kids, senior citizens, steers, horses, and Phoebe. Why the city girl caught his attention when they’re so obviously wrong for each other is beyond him.

The chemistry between Phoebe and Zane is palpable. The story is engaging and quick. Many elements of the usual Fool’s Gold story are missing. No gabfests at Jo’s Bar. No break-up scene when the hero decides the heroine is better off without him. No night of margarita’s as the heroine’s girlfriends surround her with comfort and tequila. The sex didn’t show up in the first hundred pages. Maybe not even the second hundred. The graphic sex is the one element of Fool’s Gold that I don’t love, so it would have worked for me if Mallery had left it off the page completely. But still, I’ll take what I can get. I think the delay in having sex works for Phoebe and Zane. They are so different, they need the time to get to know each other before acting on their attraction.

And it totally works. I didn’t even miss Jo’s Bar or the margaritas. I loved this one! And now I can’t wait for THRILL ME, coming next month.

**I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a honest review.

Media Monday: Murdoch Mysteries

Murdoch Mysteries is a Canadian television series with eight seasons.

Murdoch Mysteries
Murdoch Mysteries

Detective William Murdoch of the Toronto Constabulary works to solve crimes in 1890’s Toronto Canada. Dr. Julia Ogden is the coroner/pathologist. They spar, they flirt, they work together to put villains behind bars or into the hangman’s noose.

Friends from my local Sisters in Crime chapter recommended this series. It had several elements we enjoy so we decided to give it a try.

  • It blends fictional stories with real life people. Nikola Tesla, Harry Houdini, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have all made appearances.
  • It’s rooted firmly in the past but with nods to contemporary elements, much like the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies. Forensics and pathology and investigative techniques all play parts in the plots.
  • The stories/mysteries/crimes are well constructed, although it often falls into the usual TV trap of introducing the culprit as one of the first witnesses to be cleared, but then come under suspicion again later.
  • It has strong characters who spar and memorable secondary characters. Stud Muffin has taken to calling people “ye mucker,” like Murdoch’s supervisor Inspector Thomas Brackenreid.

We watched the first three seasons on Netflix Streaming. The rest of the seasons we’ll have to get from Netflix DVDs or the local library.

The things we don’t like:

  • Some of the attitudes of the characters are a bit too 21st century, and not true to late-Victorian era mores.
  • As noted above, sometimes the culprit is easy to figure out just because he or she was eliminated early in the investigation.

But those are easily forgivable. We’ve enjoyed the first three seasons and we’ll continue to watch. What are you binge-watching this summer?

Woe! It’s Wednesday: Community

Stud Muffin and I have been talking recently about community. What it is. How do you develop it? How do you find it? Can community be legislated? Or does it have to happen organically?

With social media, we see plenty of online communities forming around common interests and hobbies. But I’m talking about something deeper, the feeling that you’re my people and I’m yours.

Lincoln Cathedral, from Wikimedia CommonsWhen we moved to Southern California back in the mid-1980s, we found a church right away. We had friends in the area and they told us where they attended. We liked it and never visited anywhere else. It was a big church (still is), especially to two wide-eyed bumpkins transplanted from the sticks to the big city. But we felt at home right away.

Whenever we met anyone new at church, they always asked three questions.

  • Are you in a Sunday School class?
  • Are you in a small group?
  • What’s your ministry?

There was a recognition that with a large church, being connected had to be intentional. Everyone was expected to answer those three questions.

Our answers:

  • Yes! We’re in Bereans.
  • Yes! We meet with several other couples regularly for Bible study and prayer.
  • Uh … ministry?

That third one took a little longer, but we both found a niche. Even Stud Muffin whose church attendance in those days was sporadic, due to his work hours. I served in Mothers Class (the precursor to MOPS, back in the dark ages), Pioneer Girls, and as a substitute Sunday school teacher. Stud Muffin served as an usher.

The friends we made during those years are still our community. They’re the ones we call when life knocks us down.

Stud Muffin and I have talked about why those connections have lasted. We don’t really have an answer.

It could be the difference in Southern and Central California.

Southern California is full of people not from there, so they’re used to making community, from and blooming where they’re planted. Central California has more people who grew up here and have family close by and have never needed to go looking for a friend.

Or it could be the season of life we were in then. There’s a shared history. We’ve known each other a long time now and we’ve seen our children grow up together.

But we have made good friends here, both in Central California and at a later stage in life, so neither of those theories seem to be valid. Although I found it telling that when life kicked us in the gut in early 2014, our first calls were to family, our Southern California community, and then to a few local friends. Only one of those locals was at our church. We did tell our table group in our Sunday school class, but not until Sunday. I only called one church friend when we were still trying to figure out what happened and what we were doing and what was going on.

I’m not angry or bitter (any more – I admit to some frustration when we were trying to find a new community when we first moved back to the Valley).

Our church is currently pushing involvement in small groups and connecting and community. It’s what I wanted for a long time. now that it’s here? My reaction: a yawn.

I wonder if it’s because I’m simply tired from trying to build this on my own. When we first moved to the area, we assumed we’d gather a new community like the one we’d left. We invited people to parties, over for dinner or dessert. All invitations were met with varying amounts of coolness.

  • Oh, we’d love to, but you guys live so far out. Why don’t we meet you at (INSERT RESTAURANT)?
  • Oh … I’ll have to check my calendar and get back to you … (INSERT CRICKETS).

I had one person tell me that while we were welcome to attend (INSERT CHURCH NAME), in their experience, people who lived as far out of town as we did didn’t stick, they got tired of driving and found another church closer to home. That was 23 years ago. We’re still there. And now we’re not the only people who make that drive. In fact, there’s some people who (gasp!) drive even longer to get there! Which is a testimony that it is a great church with solid teaching and good people. Even if it takes a while to feel part of things.

I also had one person (this was in the dark ages, before cell phones), who was putting together a phone tree, ask me if the person ahead of me on the tree could call me collect. 

Yep. Way to make me feel welcome. I cried in the car on the way home from that meeting. BTW, that person moved away a few years later. She visits occasionally but I can’t bring myself to go say hi. Petty, I know. Welcome to my evil, petty heart. But stay away from my phone bill. Smile

Even before we settled on a church, we tried to form community in our community. In SoCal, if I ran out of sugar or milk, a half-dozen neighbors were within reach and happy to share. My new neighbors were willing to share too, but I soon noticed they never ran out of anything and needed to borrow from So I got the message. Neighbors weren’t expected to be neighborly. We shared a street name in our address and that was it. Now we wave occasionally and everyone seems happy.

Of course, for every rule there is the exception. We have one neighbor family who actually does seem to enjoy our company and regularly invite us over for a front yard meal of lingua tacos or tripas. Neither of which I eat, but Stud Muffin loves both. Our neighbors know I’m squeamish and always have carne asada on hand for me. Plate Now that’s neighborly!

And I do have a few friends I know I can call when I need something. It’s only taken a couple of decades, but we’ve found our community.

And apparently it’s time to be open to expand. I’m trying. Or at least I want to try.

Wow, this is a long tale of Woe! Thanks for sticking with me, both physically and on the web.

What’s your take on community? What does it look like to you?

Book Talk Tuesday: ALL RIGHT HERE

This is an excellent book I picked up on a whim and enjoyed very much.

The blurb: The family you want isn’t always the family you need.

ALL RIGHT HERE is the first in what looks to be a new series about the Darling Family. I know, I know, it’s almost too cute, but the writing isn’t cutesy or twee or precious. The book is by Carre Armstrong Gardner.

ARHALL RIGHT HERE is the story of Ivy Darling and her husband Nick. They can’t have children and become instant guardians to three children from next door when their mother abandons them. Nick is determined not to get attached. Ivy dives in and is soon busy with her home, her job, and her new kids. Nick isn’t actively mean or neglectful, just more disinterestedly observant.

As Ivy becomes more involved in her own life and Nick disengages more, even sometimes belittling and demeaning Ivy, their lives head toward a seeming breakdown.

My only complaint is that in the beginning, Ivy seemed too passive. She just took Nick’s family’s disrespect and didn’t stand up for herself at all. She got better as the book went on, so I concede that her passivity was part of her character arc.

The children are real enough to walk off the page and into your minivan. There’s the tough-exteriored and protective older brother, the younger sister who loves all things girly and the youngest brother, still needing security and food in his life, as well as some Pull-Ups. Winking smile 

The book is excellently written, with a depth of emotion rare in a debut author. The story issues are real and heartfelt. I highly recommend this one!

Woe! It’s Wednesday: Tis the Season …

… for graduations! We’ve attended several parties, purchased gifts and cards aplenty, and even attended an actual ceremony. Well, Stud Muffin did. I had a previous engagement.

gradHe was quite pleased to receive the invitation and even more pleased to attend. He said it was the nicest graduation he’d ever been to. I hope he means after his own, mine, and our daughters’ ceremonies. Winking smile

Maybe it’s just me, but graduations bring thoughts of endings and beginnings. Of scary things and change and the unknown.

Things I had no idea about when I graduated from high school:

  • That I wasn’t as smart as I thought
  • That the years ahead would be full of happiness and heartache, about in equal measure.
  • Cell phones and computers and VHS players

I like to think I’m a bit smarter now. But you know that saying, You don’t know what you don’t know? I still often have no idea about what I don’t know, much less what I do know. I’ve forgotten some things that would often come in quite handy. Diagramming sentences. How to change a tire. Some passwords.

I look forward to hearing stories about these new graduates making their way in the unknown world of adulthood.

I’m proud of the graduates we know. And their parents!

Congratulation Class of 2015!

Book Talk Tuesday: A Woman of Fortune

This is a what if? story based very loosely on the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and Monte Sharp, a Texas “businessman” who ran a similar scheme to Madoff’s, except Sharp used cattle instead of securities and stocks.

The blurb: Texas socialite Claire Massey is living the dream. Her world is filled woman-of-fortune-3dwith designer clothes, luxury cars, and stunning homes. But her Neiman-Marcus lifestyle comes crashing down when her charming cattle broker husband is arrested for fraud. Suddenly, she finds herself facing attorneys, a media frenzy, and a trail of broken hearts. Betrayed and humiliated, Claire must start over against incredible odds to save her family–and discover a life worth living.

The ‘what if’ is “What if a family who fell apart because of one man’s crimes was able to hold themselves together?”

I quite liked this one. Claire is a bit naïve, even obtuse, at the beginning. But her emotions are real and effectively conveyed. The faith elements are handled deftly. I’ve recommended this to several people already and I passed my copy on to a friend.

Can you imagine living a lifestyle where money has lost its value? Whatever you want, you pick up the phone and it magically appears a short time later? The opening scene, set at the Massey ranch during their annual barbecue is a glimpse into that kind of life.

I ascribe to the “just enough” philosophy. I want just enough of something that I don’t forget what it was like without and never stop appreciating it. Just enough rain to make me appreciate the sun. Just enough hot days to make me appreciate winter. Just enough acclaim to keep me from feeling unappreciated. Just enough weeds so I appreciate the flowers (THIS one is a biggie for me!). Winking smile 

I think Claire came to this realization at the end of her story. I like to hope so, anyway.

Media Monday: Jane Eyre

What’s your favorite classic?

Jane Eyre is a beloved classic. The poor governess Jane. The tormented Mr. Rochester. Thornfield. All well known to lovers of romance, the classics, and the gothic novel. Jane Eyre was the first classic literature I ever read. Although, given a choice now, I prefer Austen to Brontë, I still have a soft spot for Jane.

janeA few months ago I taped an airing of a Jane Eyre movie. I thought it was the fairly recent 2011 version, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t even the older 2006 mini-series. Nope, it was the 1996 edition with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg. I knew something was odd when I saw Joan Plowright listed in the credits. She hasn’t appeared in anything in about six years.

It’s a somewhat abbreviated retelling of Jane’s story, but enjoyable enough for a Sunday afternoon of ironing. I’m going to keep my eyes open for  the 2011 version, just so I have a point of comparison. I don’t think I’ve seen a film version of Jane Eyre before.

I’ll skip the 2006 mini-series. I’m just not a Ruth Wilson fan. I’m sure she’s a lovely person and a talented actress, but … 17220938019_d0ee7cece3_bI can’t get past her unusually shaped upper lip. It’s so long and thin, it distracts me. I’m one of the few people who quite enjoyed The Lone Ranger, but it was in spite of Ruth Wilson, not thanks to her. And in Saving Mr. Banks, I can’t even tell you what her part was or how it played in the story (Ms. Travers’s mother?       maybe …) because in all of her scenes, I couldn’t take my eyes off her lip.

In 2012, I reviewed The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesay, a retelling/update/homage to Jane Eyre. I was surprised by how many details in the novel were echoes of the original and also found in the movie.

Now, I’m off to find the 2011 version. Do you have a favorite classic?

Food Talk Friday: Mexican Food in Sanger, California

sangerI’ve traveled to the small valley town of Sanger several times in the last month or so. Once was for a wedding. Twice was for work. All three times, I had Mexican food. Since Mexican is one of my favorite cuisines, I was a happy girl every time I was in Sanger.

First up was Cristal’s, part restaurant, part bakery. You can get delicious cheese enchilada’s to eat there and some Mexican pastries to go. The enchiladas were full of gooey cheese and the rice and beans were delicious. The beans were firm, not mushy, always a good thing. Look up “casual ambiance,” and you’ll find a picture of the Cristal dining area. Formica tables with attached chairs in a room lined with shelves full of pan dulce. Lunch was delicious and I had a place to recommend in Sanger.

Two weeks later we attended a wedding just outside of Sanger that was catered by a Mexican restaurant/taco truck. Ocampos provided the food. The owner is Felipe and he was warm and attentive to everyone in the line. The carne asada was roasted, then carved, then seared on the grill. The tacos were soft and the toppings plentiful. Cabbage, lime, peppers, pico de gallo, guacamole. All available and fresh and delicious. The wait staff was personable and seemed to be having as much fun as the wedding guests.

Earlier this week I traveled to Sanger again and this time my guide took me to Velasco’s. Slightly (very slightly) less casual than Cristal’s (they boast booths as well as tables with moveable chairs,) Velasco’s served excellent food. The first time I try a new Mexican place, I usually order an enchilada and a taco. The taco was a bit greasy, but it had a good crunch without shattering at the first bite. The enchilada sauce was excellent, no metallic after-taste like I sometimes get. The service was attentive and I thought the prices were good. Lunch for three (two drinks) was under $25. Under $30, with the tip.

I’ve talked in the past about my very favorite Mexican place, Javier’s. None of these three will edge Javier’s out just yet. But I’m willing to go back and let them try.

Do you have a favorite cuisine? Where do you go when you need a fix?

Spotlight Thursday: Asa Maria Bradley and Viking Warrior Rising

I’m thrilled to host my Golden Heart® Dreamweaver sis, Asa Maria Bradley’s cover reveal for her new release!

Welcome Asa!

Here’s the cover and some info:

VikingWarriorRising-300Viking Warrior Rising

by Asa Maria Bradley

Release Date: 11/03/15

Sourcebooks Casablanca

Immortal Vikings are among us.

Leif Skarsganger and his elite band of immortal warriors have been charged to protect humanity from the evil Norse god Loki.

Under attack from Loki’s minions, Leif is shocked to encounter a dark-haired beauty who fights like a warrior herself. Wounded and feverish, the Viking kisses her, inadvertently triggering an ancient Norse bond. But when Naya Brisbane breaks away and disappears before the bond is completed, Leif’s warrior spirit goes berserk. If Leif doesn’t find her fast, he’s going to lose himself to permanent battle fury.

But Naya doesn’t want to be found…and he’ll do anything to find her. Because they’re both running out of time.

“Asa Maria Bradley creates a swoon-worthy hero who sizzles across the pages in this tale full of passion, blood, and destiny! Sexy, stubborn, and smart lovers clash in a tension-filled race to outwit science and control fate. Bradley is a new force to be reckoned with in the paranormal genre! Move over Highlanders…the Vikings are coming!”

– Rebecca Zanetti, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Dark Protector series

“Strong world-building, and a hero that will make you want a Viking of your very own!”

– Paige Tyler, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the X-Ops and SWAT series

“An intensely thrilling and unique romance that whisks the reader into the intricate, smart, and sexy world of these wickedly hot Viking warriors.”

– Sara Humphreys, award-winning author of Vampires Never Cry Wolf

Add to Goodreads List or pre-order from: Barnes & Noble or Amazon

About the Author
Asa Maria Bradley grew up in Sweden surrounded by archaeology and history steeped in Norse mythology, which inspired the immortal Vikings and Valkyries in her paranormal romances. She also writes romantic suspense and currently resides on a lake deep in the pine forests of the Pacific Northwest with a British husband and a rescue dog of indeterminate breed. Asa graduated from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers MFA program at Eastern Washington University with an MFA in creative writing and also holds a Master of Science in Medical Physics from University of Colorado. She’s a 2014 Golden Heart finalist and represented by Sarah E Younger at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest

This is sure to be a stay-up-all-night-page-turner!

Book Talk Tuesday: The Last Anniversary

Liane Moriarty is my current literary obsession. I have two more books by her to read and I’ll be caught up on her backlist. And then I’ll be bereft.

LastAnniversary_USThe last one I read was The Last Anniversary.

Sophie is approaching forty at a rapid pace. She’s still looking for love and the man to share her life with. She’s shocked to hear from Thomas, a good man whose heart she broke by calling off the relationship just before he proposed. So she’s even more shocked to learn that his aunt has left her house to Sophie. An aunt Sophie only met a very few times.

A story comes along with the house found on Scribbly Gum Island, home of the Enigma baby.

The reasons I love Moriarty:

  • Her skillful dribbling in of backstory. Just enough to keep my turning the pages, not so little that I feel cheated.
  • Her insistence on sharing the full story before the end of the book. I truly ❤ this! I know all my questions will be answered.
  • Her characters are real and flawed and I feel like I could call any of them and grab coffee and we’d talk all day.
  • Her gift for language and creating word pictures.

Sophie finds someone who could be the love of her life. Or not. The mystery surrounding the island and the Enigma baby (who has grown up into a grandmother named Enigma) are slowly doled out. Sophie learns some details before she should and is good enough to share them with the reader. I figured out the truth of Enigma fairly early on, but the clues were so skillful, I wasn’t completely sure I was right until all was revealed.

Before I start my next Liane Moriarty, I’m going to read a few other books, because I’m working on delayed gratification in my life.